The letters of John Hus/Letter 28, To Master Christian of Prachaticz, Rector of the University of Prague

XXVIII. To the Same

(Without date: after April 1413)

Greetings from Christ Jesus, the true Head of the Church;[1] for He it is that truly gives to His members spiritually to live, move, and have their being, since it is in Himself that we live, move, and are, as Paul asserted in the schools of Athens before the philosophers (Acts 2a).[2]

My lord rector, you have put this among the chief points—namely, whether I am willing to agree to the proposition that the Pope is the head of the Holy Roman Church, and the cardinals the body, and, further, to abide by all the rulings and decisions of the Holy Roman Church.[3] Truly here latet anguis in herba![4] For if the Pope is the head of the Roman Church and the cardinals the body, then they in themselves form the entire Holy Roman Church, as the entire body of man with the head is the man.[5] In fact, its own disciples, the satellites of Antichrist, use interchangeably the expressions “Holy Roman Church” and “Pope and cardinals.” Suppose that Satan incarnate, together with twelve of his proudest devils, were to sit in Peter’s place, and suppose that his rule and first principle were that whatever he and his monstrous body laid down must be held as the faith! For this was how the devil tempted Christ, declaring that he had power to grant to Him all the kingdoms of the world, if He would fall down and worship him.[6] It is passing strange, moreover, that the disciples of Antichrist now wish to lay down a ruling in the matter of the sacraments. Hath not the Church existed for 1413 years without this ruling which is now to be? I am aware that they wrote to the Curia about the judgment of the doctors and the prelates. They reserve these matters for Antichrist's assent, in order to lead us astray. They admit him to be the more important, that [7]they may reach this conclusion: “You are a heretic! Tor it follows that whatever the Holy Roman Church rules (that is, the Pope along with the cardinals) must be held as the faith; but the Pope, along with his associates, rules that indulgences ‘by pocket and purse’[8] are Catholic: therefore this must be held as the faith. But you, Hus, have preached the opposite. Abjure, therefore, your heresy, or be burned.”

Item, whatever the Pope rules, etc. But he rules that Hus is an obstinate fellow under ban of excommunication, and thus is a heretic. Therefore he must be condemned.

Item, whatever the Pope rules, etc. But the Pope rules that the decision of the doctors, alias the enemies of the truth, arrived at in the court, is just and holy. Therefore it must hold good.[9]

Item, whatever the Pope rules must hold good. But the Pope rules that all who have Wyclif’s books should give them up to be burnt, and must abjure. Therefore this also we must hold.[10]

Item, whatever the Pope rules, etc. But the Pope rules by an edict that preaching is not to take place in any chapel. Therefore, etc.[11]

Item, whatever the Pope rules must hold good. But Boniface with the cardinals solemnly decreed that Wenzel, King of Bohemia, is not King of the Romans, nor Sigismund of the Hungarians. Therefore we must hold this.[12]

And which of us can search out the number of decisions that Antichrist might aim at us at his own sweet will? Thus I observe that the doctors would like to compare Christ to Belial, on the ground, however, that Christ doth not nominate the head of the Holy Church. So also they make no mention of Christ in their written judgment. I should like to know if Pope Liberius the heretic,[13] Leo the heretic, and Pope John,[14] who was delivered of a boy, were the heads of the Roman Church. If that be the case, then it matters not if some time afterwards a harlot or an Antichrist of the first order should be the head of the Holy Roman Church. Then, of course, Antichrist wishes to be placed on an equality with Christ. But what fellowship hath Christ with Belial?[15] It is not sufficient for him and his satraps[16] that he is Christ’s vicar (at all events, if he strenuously fulfils Christ’s law), and that they themselves are the ministers of the Church, performing regularly the duty of preaching the gospel after the manner of the holy apostles, who claimed to be the ministers given to the Church to teach the very law of Christ.

I would like to see the argument of that doctor[17]—what he would prove by the fact that Christ was the Head of the Church, as without doubt He was, for the three days He was in the tomb.[18] For from the beginning of His incarnate life He was the essential Head of the Church by virtue of His humanity,[19] which He did not lay aside during the three days.[20] The consequence was that he was the Head of the Holy Church for three days, as being the most worthy Person in the human race, excelling the angels and all men, and the holy fathers in Limbo, who were all members of the Church, and who were led forth by their Head behind Himself from Limbo, and thereafter placed by Him in glory.[21] The virgin mother of Christ was then in a sense the Church militant in her own person by virtue of her faith and love.[22] Now, she had more worth than all the apostles, and consequently more than all the prelates of to-day, including the Pope.

As for the dictum of the doctor that the Catholic Apostolic Church and the Roman Church are one and the same: if by the “Roman Church” is understood the Church universal of which the apostles form a part, then it is true. If, however, “Roman Church” means in that context Pope along with the cardinals,” then the Roman Church is not identical with the Catholic Apostolic Church, just as no partial Church is the universal Holy Apostolic Church.

I would like the doctors to tell me what the Roman Church stands for in the passage where (Cause 24, question 1, chapter headed “This is the Faith”),[23] on the authority of Jerome, the Holy Roman Church is said to be that which has remained ever immaculate, and in the providence of the Lord and by the help of the blessed apostle Peter will abide for all time unviolated by heretics.[24] For there it cannot stand for the Pope and the cardinals, seeing that they are stained with more vices than other men, as Stanislaus and Palecz bore witness. There have been many heretical popes, and many of very doubtful character. A woman hath sat in the chief seat of the Church. How, then, hath the Roman Church—that is, cardinals and Pope—remained always without a blemish?[25]? Would that the disciples of Antichrist were content to believe that the Holy Roman Church is the whole body of Christ’s faithful saints militant in the faith of Christ![26] This doctrine Peter, Bishop of Rome, and, above all, Christ, the Bishop of our souls, taught. Though we could conceive of Rome as overthrown, Pope and cardinals included, as completely as Sodom, still the Holy Church would remain. . . .[27]

  1. This sentence strikes the keynote of the letter: not the Pope, but Christ.
  2. i.e., xvii. 28. Hus was quoting by the pagination of a folio MS.
  3. The two chief demands of the theological faculty at the meeting of both parties before the Commission; see p. 84. The second demand is not accurately given by Hus, who leaves out the qualifying phrase ‘in omni materia catholica.’ See Doc. 508.
  4. Virgil, Ecl. 3 , 93 . Hus’s humanistic touches are rare.
  5. This argument is expanded in Hus’s De Ecclesia, cc. 7, 13, 15, the main theses of which are taken from Wyclif’s De Ecclesia, pp. 5, 14 , 31, 86, 92, 93. See also Hus’s Responsio ad Stanislai, c. 2 (Mon. i. 267b).
  6. Matt. iv. 9
  7. P.: et concludant; read ut.
  8. A pera et a bursa, a parody of a pena et culpa, which, as a matter of fact, was not in the indulgence in this bare form. See Lea, Hist. Auricular Confession, iii. 54-80, and cf. Mon. i. 171–91, for further strictures by Hus.
  9. P. 83
  10. P. 26.
  11. P. 26.
  12. On August 11, 1400, the four Rhenish electors met at Loehnstein, and decreed the deposition of Wenzel from the empire, and on August 21 chose the Palatine Rupert, in his place. Boniface IX. at first hesitated to commit himself to Rupert; but on the imprisonment of Sigismund by his Hungarian subjects (1401), Boniface felt free to drive a hard bargain with Rupert for his recognition. At the end of May 1403 Boniface declared Ladislaus of Naples to be the King of Hungary, and in the August of 1403 formally deposed Wenzel.
  13. A favourite argument with Hus, who repeats these illustrations, especially that of Pope Joan, more than once—e.g., in his De Ecclesia (Mon. i. 207a, 220a, 221a), Responsio ad Stanislai (Mon. i. 271a, 274b, 277d). He gives his authority as ‘Cestrensis, lib. 4, c. 14; lib. 5, c. 3’—i.e., the Polychronicon of Ralph Higden († ca. 1363), a monk of Chester. Hus would be introduced to Higden by Wyclif (cf. De Officio Regis, pp. 128, 146), but appears to have actually read this for himself—at any rate, I cannot put my finger on the connecting link, though the inaccuracy of the references (which should be iv. c. 14, v. c. 32) would point to one. Cf. infra, p. 131, n. 4.

    Liberius, who was appointed Pope on May 22, 352, lapsed into semi-Arianism in the winter of 357–8, though it is difficult to settle precisely which of the many Arian formulas of the time he accepted. Before his death (September 24, 366) he returned to full orthodoxy. For the myth of Pope Joan—Agnes, as Hus calls her—see Döllinger, Fables respecting Popes during M.A., 1–67. As to Joan, whom Hus describes, following Higden, as an ‘Anglicus’ from Mainz, Hus would meet no opposition. Gerson had used the illustration himself (see Op. Gers. ii. 71), and Dietrich of Niem mentions the very school in which she taught.
  14. i.e., Joan, whose papal name was supposed to be John VIII., and whose date was given as between Leo IV. (855) and Benedict IV. (858).
  15. 2 Cor. vi. 15.
  16. See p. 50, n. 7.
  17. Stanislaus.
  18. An argument taken from Wyclif’s De Ecclesia, p. 403.
  19. See Thom. Aquinas, Op. v. 51 (ed. Venet., 1774), and compare Wyclif, De Eccles. 132.
  20. Wyclif dwells on this in his De Benedicta Incarnacione, cc. 3 and 4. The humanity of Christ was one of Wyclif’s strong points, in the clear realisation of which he seems more modern than mediæval.
  21. The famous mediæval conception of the harrowing of hell.
  22. Idea repeated in Responsio ad Stanislai (Mon. i . 285a).
  23. Repeated by Hus in his De Eccles. (Mon. i. 207a). In both cases it is taken word for word from Wyclif’s De Eccles. p . 87, who quotes Gratian’s Decretum, ii. C. 24, q. 1, cc. 6 and 14. Hus, in his De Eccles., gives, as often, a wrong reference.
  24. Hus, following Wyclif, who borrows from Gratian, who copied “Polycarp,” is wrong in attributing this to Jerome’s Ad Damatum in expotisitione symboli. The sentence is really from the Epistola Marci Papæ ad Athanasium. The last clause should run: manebit, . . . insultatione firma et immobilis omni tempori persisteret, and not as in Hus. See also Richter-Friedberg, Corp. Jur. Can. i. 970.
  25. Cf. Wyclif, De Eccles. 88.
  26. Ib. p. 86 et passim.
  27. The letter seems incomplete.